Wilf McCartney in his late sixties was a regular speaker at anarchist meetings and a member of the Syndicalist Propaganda League but did not join the Anarchist Federation (as reconstructed in 1940). He took the view, held by many, that what was needed was workers as a whole to organise, not the anarchists as such.
The AFB set up a publishing division, taking the name of the old Freedom Press (1886-1935). It was infiltrated by many bourgeois literary careerists who gradually, hived off FP as their own, leading to a split.
When Tom Brown suggested to McCartney he should write his history in 1942, it was assumed FP belonged to the anarchist movement, but by the time it was written (1944) this was already dubious. The clique later calling itself “Freedom Press Group” insisted the book was impossible to publish, giving as an excuse the admittedly scarcely legible script. It was typed by a friend of McCartney and lay on the table in the flat of two of the group while they thought of fresh excuses why it could not be published.
However, they were friends of George Orwell, who happened to call and, seeing it, was interested enough to ask if he could take it home to read. Next week he came in and said enthusiastically, “if you’re going to publish it, I’d like to write a foreword.” Though Orwell was not as famous then as now, he was a Noted Intellectual and this of course altered the situations They “agreed” it should be published, but George Woodcock, as a literary “expert” Still wanted it re-written in his brand of Standard Boring English. Brown objected vigorously. However, by the time the booklet was ready for printing, the FPG had seized control of the press. Woodcock made several deletions, and changed the title to “The French Cooks’ Syndicate”, with an introduction by Woodcock and a preface by Orwell.* The original title, here used, is not the best in the world, but it was his own.
McCartney, who did not expect nor receive a penny for the work nor even a free copy, was not consulted. When he saw it printed, he objected strongly to the patronising introduction by Woodcock and he also resented Orwell writing that his experiences agreed with those of the author, who regarded him as a “upper class twit playing at workers, who said that the working class stinks.”
When Wilf’s daughter, before she died some fifteen years ago, asked an anarchist publisher for the pamphlet to be re-printed, the directors of Freedom Press wrote that it was “their” pamphlet and they were about to do it themselves and jealously preserved the right to Orwell’s few words.
In rescuing the book from oblivion, it was hoped to produce it as originally written. But the manuscript was never returned. It so happens the typesetter of this edition was the typist of the old edition, and an endeavour has been made to get back to the original. Sadly, the missing paragraphs cannot be recaptured. It can be noted, however, that before the last section (“Comparisons”) there were two sections on the unemployed workers struggle in Southwark and Bermondsey, (The words “but that is another story” were inserted instead in that edition). The missing sections contained references to early anti-fascist activity during the General Strike, when the Imperial Fascisti organised a strikebreaking force, which despite Regular Army protection was routed in the Old Kent Road by dockers with their hammers and catering workers with their carving knives. The heroic scabs took one look, broke ranks and ran, to the hilarity of the squaddies. The earliest section, an amusing paragraph on Victorian schools with some sarcastic comments on professional writers, is also missing. These deletions were no doubt in the interests of space.
“Dare to be a Daniel!” was written in 1942, published in 1945 as ‘The French Cooks’ Syndicate’. Republished in 1992 by the KSL.
* The published text of 1945 does not contain a preface by George Orwell. But Orwell did review the pamphlet in Freedom – through Anarchism (8 September 1945). This review is reprinted in The complete works of George Orwell volume 17 page 284-5. [KSL 2012]
Also available at http://libcom.org/history/dare-be-daniel-wilf-mccartney
Part of Dare to be a Daniel!